Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Albanian Power-Sharing Unlikely
Renewed violence at the weekend appears to have increased pressure on the Macedonian government to bring about an end to the crisis.
The authorities are currently sponsoring intensive inter-party talks to broaden the ruling coalition base, which, it is hoped, will help to address Albanian grievances.
It is crucial, therefore, that Albanian parties appear unified in presenting the community's case, and avert a repetition of last month's insurgency. The fighting on the Macedonian border suggests that some Albanians may be running out of patience with their representatives.
Many believe that the National Liberation Army, NLA, took up arms earlier this year because of the political weaknesses of ethnic Albanian political representatives.
Despite a lengthy freeze in relations between ruling coalition member Democratic Party of Albania, DPA, and the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity, PDP, a meeting held on April 14 seemed to allow for greater optimism over cooperation between the two.
DPA leader Arben Xhaferi talked of the "chance for unity" while his PDP counterpart Imeri Imeri expressed " hope this unification will come about since we share exactly the same aims".
Although the two Albanian parties share essentially the same goals - the reform of the constitution, providing their community equal rights - they have a history of rifts and disagreements, personal and political, which go back a decade.
Xhaferi and his deputy Menduh Thaci were once members of the PDP but left in 1994, disenchanted with what they saw as the party's moderate platform. The two eventually set up the DPA the same year.
Ironically, one of the reasons they defected was the PDP's tacit support for the constitution, but now the DPA is being accused of precisely the same thing.
Closer than they have been for years, Xhaferi and Imeri showed that they shared at least some basic principles when they both came out against the National Liberation Army's use of violence. They agree that political dialogue, not the gun, is the way forward.
Despite this, both parties managed to lose popularity as the conflict unfolded, unable to set aside personal differences and political ambitions, resorting to name-calling and blame-laying over their joint failure to improve Albanian rights.
After the fighting around Tetovo died down, they did, however, manage to heal some of the rifts which had kept them from appearing on any sort of joint ticket.
Both the DPA and PDP stressed the need for international mediation to overcome the crisis.
But, if the conflict has nudged the parties closer together, there are still important issues which divide them. Not least of which is that of Tetovo University. It was this very institution which caused a public rift between Albanian groups during local elections last year, which occasionally broke out into violent disputes.
The PDP wants the university recognised as a state instution, not just a private one. This is unacceptable to the current government - and therefore the DPA.
Since the issue has emerged as emblematic of the ethnic Albanian struggle it is important not to underestimate its significance.
Divisions within the parties over the possibility of compromise on Tetovo University may prevent them joining forces. Should this impasse continue, it is likely that the Albanian population will lose patience with their representatives.
The longer the delay in hammering out some sort of compromise agreement, the greater the danger that the Albanian and Macedonian camps will be become more and more polarised. Albanian parties joined with their Macedonian counterparts in denouncing the weekend violence, but how long will this consensus last?
As far as the Albanians are concerned, the history of relations between the DPA and PDP suggest any rapprochement will not be long lasting. Problems would doubtless appear over levels of power-sharing, as they did two and half years ago.
A few months after agreeing to appearing on the same proportional list for elections in September 1998, the two started to squabble among themselves as to who were the truer representatives of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia
Subsequetly, splits began to emerge within the PDP itself - which led to the creation of several more parties.
The DPA looks likely to follow suit, as there is no clear successor to its president Arben Xhaferi who is in extremely poor health. Though Menduh Thaci seems his obvious successor - indeed he has been filling in for his boss in recent months - a number of doubts have been raised about the strength of his power base within the party.
The PDP also continues to suffer from factional fighting - putting its future stability in question. Imeri does not rank as a very popular politician. This works in favour of DPA officials. As long as he remains PDP chief, they feel they will have the upper hand over their rivals.
Prospects, then, seem bleak. The Albanian parties may be striving for some form of accommodation, but it's likely to be a slow process and when and if they finally achieve it, history suggests that it won't last very long.
Veton Latifi is a political analyst and IWPR assistant editor in Macedonia
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